Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Kaufmann House Goes On The Block

Get your checkbooks ready kids, because it's official. One of the world's most famous houses will soon be sold. Yes puppies, the Richard Neutra designed Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs, CA will be offered for sale through Christie's Realty International in conjunction with Christie's much anticipated and hyped Post-War & Contemporary Art Sale on May 13, 2008. The property is expected to fetch a butt clenching $15-25,000,000.

This is of course not news to modernist aficionados who have been whispering about the impending dee-vorce of current owners Brent and Beth Harris for some time and wondering with sharp and wagging tongues what was to become of the famous house they spent years and millions restoring under the masterful hands of architecture stars Marmol & Radziner.

Sprawling across several parcels on West Vista Chino in the windy northern reaches of of Palm Springs, the pinwheel shaped house sits on the better side of Palm Canyon Drive and measures either 3,162 square feet or 4,827 square feet depending on where you do your research. Property records indicate that the Harris couple purchased the house in August of 1993 for $982,500 (some reports say they paid $1,500,000) after it had been mutilated and traumatized by wretched renovations and flowered wallpaper by a series of homeowners who included campy crooner Barry Manilow.

Now children, just as an aside, Your Mama has loved Ms. Manilow all the way back to when we were a wee lad listening to 8-track tapes at our Aunt Jennie's house in Ventura, CA. But we just gotta ask, when did Barry Manilow start to look like such a woman with his too smooth and too tan skin and that spiky mess of a hair don't which we are quite certain is a damn wig? Sorry Bare, but it's just not good. Seriously hun, listen to Your Mama here and get yourself a new stylist who believes in aging gracefully.

Anyhoo, records on file with the county show the house has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, but honestly kids, Your Mama doesn't know if that's accurate because most reports say there are 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, which probably includes the staff quarters in the wing behind the carport. What is accurate is that the house is built around a central core that houses the main living space. The secondary rooms pinwheel around the center and long walls of glass create a dee-lishus tension between the rugged desert landscape and the simple but very refined structure and ridiculously civilized and dee-luxe interior spaces.

In addition to the main house, which features an exquisite covered loggia on the second floor designed to both shield from the blistering sun and to harness the desert breezes, the property includes a swimming pool, tennis court (not original to Kaufmann's plans), and a rebuilt pool house with gym and bath also by the folks at Marmol & Radziner and which also function as a viewing pavilion for the main house and a portal to the tennis court.

So just who would be ready, willing and able to write a check for $15,000,000 or more for a weekend house in Palm Springs? Now puppies, Your Mama and the Dr. Cooter happen to lurv us some Palm Springs, where the greys and the gays mingle in harmony on the 49,000 golf courses that dot the Coachella Valley. We have spent many a lovely night at The Parker and intend to visit regularly, but there is simply no way in hell anyone could get Your Mama to fork over that kind of money for a house in a little town in the middle of nowhere where the dead go to die. Not even for a world class Neutra.

So Your Mama asked a few of our better connected sources who they thought might be interested in this very pricey winter weekend home and we tossed in a few of our own uneducated guesses too. Keep in mind children, that Your Mama don't know shit. We are just speculating. If you don't know what that means, getcher Websters out and look it up.

Although none of our sources think a celebrity will plunk down the big bucks for the Kaufmann House, there may indeed be a few deep pocketed Hollywood types that might be interested such as Ellen Degeneres or Courtney Cox. How about Mister Jolie? He's got a thing for name brand architecture. Perhaps the kooky and overly endowed Vincent Gallo (if he could scrape the cash together)? And maybe, Kenny Kissentell ventures, Ms. Manilow would be interested in purchasing the old Neutra gurl once again.

More likely it'll be a fabulously rich architectural benefactor with a penchant for modern art who will see the purchase as a responsibility to maintain an architectural piece of art. Our short list would include MTV President Brian Graden, billionaire David Geffen, real estate tycoon Eli Broad, or maybe even the Frank McCourts who recently forked over more than $30,000,000 for the ocean front Lautner designed house in Malee-boo they purchased from Courtney Cox and David Arquette.

Your Mama also thinks there might be a few big name art institutions such as LACMA, or mabye even MOCA, that might have the interest and cash reserves necessary to purchase and maintain the property as part of their permanent collection.

One more possibility might be that a group of investors will pool their pennies to purchase and use it's landmark status and historical significance to turn the whole place into a limited entry museum space not unlike what was done with Phillips Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, CT.

And let's not forget all the filthy rich foreign magnates and potentates whose currency is currently in much better shape than the American dollar and who might see the Kaufmann House as a wise and savvy real estate investment they can flip for a $5,000,000+ profit when (and if) the dollar stabilizes.

Only time will tell who and for how much, but be assured that every major newspaper and every real estate gossip across the country will be yapping their jaws and typing their fingers to the nubbins to be the first to tell the world.

Sources: David Glomb and Tim Street-Porter (photos)


Anonymous said...

It's clever of Christie's to include this in a sale of post-war art -- by positioning real estate as art, the auction house actually makes the estimate sound reasonable.

Anonymous said...

It's not my style at all, but it is a beeyotiful house.

Anonymous said...

The house is magnificent. I was lucky enough to tour it a couple of years ago with Beth Harris explaining the restoration work.

The original whispers around Palm Springs (before the auction announcement) were it could be purchased for 20m and supposedly Brad Pitt was among those who considered buying it.

I always heard the 1.5m price but maybe that was the asking price and they got it for less.

The Harris' bought 4-5 additional properties around it to recreate the sense of the house sitting in open desert. I believe the tennis court originally belonged to an adjoining property. I don't know what they paid for all the additional land but I assume that is part of the sale.

The building you see in between the tennis court and the pool is a new M+R design. A large portion of it is a bar/entertainment pavilion with disappearing walls. There is also a gym and bathroom in the new building.

I remember at least 4 bedrooms (including staff) in the house, and if they count the gym as a bedroom that would make 5. I don't remember how many baths.

I hope the house does end up in the hands of someone who loves it as much as the Harrises and also continues to open it for fundraisers and charitable functions.

Anonymous said...

And if any one was wondering, the name "Kaufmann House" comes for the original owner Edgar Kaufmann, the same department store magnate as the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Anonymous said...

I *love* this place. If money just didn't matter, I would buy it.

There are so many people for whom money isn't an issue, a place as unique and special as this will find a buyer.

I just love it. Damn I made the wrong career choice.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Mama, can I please borrow $15M - I'll pay you back, I swear!

I've loved this house since I was knee-high to Big Gay Decorator, although I always wondered what the Boulder House, the one Frank Lloyd Wright did design for this site (in an attempt to steal the commission) would have looked like here.

so_chic_darling said...

There's only one thing I like better than a viewing pavilion,and that's a drinks pavilion!
As for the asking price,well what is art worth?in an age where a painting selling at auction for over a hundred million is no longer big news.It seems like a deal!

ms_wonderland said...

That landscaping is delish. Pity we can't have more interior pics, but I would love to live there.

I went on a Palm Springs bus tour (I'm a furriner, we're allowed) and there were several houses pointed out as ex Manilow residences. According to the tour guide, Bazza buys up doer-upers and works on them himself. One of them gave him a bit of a breakdown, due to the stress. Wonder if it was this one?

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this place - it's simply stunning but I wish I could just pick it up & move it to L.A [well, 1st I would need the cash!]

I totally agree with you Mama about the possible buyers ... Maybe now Ellen has sold her Montecito place she's looking for a new weekend place other than her San Ysidro ranch ... who knows?

Anonymous said...

Marmol & Radziner do some of the most beautiful homes, from simple to grand. I love there work. Funny. I hate this house. Is it just me or does the satellite shot look like a swaztika? I'm just saying. I for one wouldn't buy anything other than a nice big dirty martini in PS, and a tank of gas to get the hell out of Dodge. The only thing that sucks more than PS is Ms.Spears. I mean, unless your going to some Rainbow Suite/All-Nude No-tell-Ho!tell, why bother going at all? Its a truly UNattractive town full of old folks wearing sweaters in 105 degree heat, and nice gay decorators in their Carrera cabriolets throwing attitude and caution to the wind. Why baa-thuh...

Anonymous said...

^ Thanks, hippie canyon. For personal reasons, your excoriating putdown of PS made me smile. Very nice!

Anonymous said...

So Chic, the new pavilion is situated so you can sit with martini in hand with the exact same view as the famous Julius Shulman photo of the house... The black & white photo at dusk with Mrs. Kaufmann reclining next to the pool to diffuse the light from the pool light.

The photos Mama found don't do the house justice. Mrs. Harris said she didn't want anyone other than Shulman to photograph the house (although I have seen some post-restoration photos by Tim Street-Porter).

Maybe as we get closer to the auction there will be some better photos in circulation. The house is truly a piece of art.

Anonymous said...

^^check the source...the photos seem to be by Tim Street-Porter

Anonymous said...

I agree the pictures don't do it justice, but then that iconic black & white photo at sunset cannot be beat - the light was fading fast and the exposure took forever, but produced one of the finest architectural renderings in history.

Anonymous said...

I think the Getty museum should buy it. Not as a display piece, but as a money making venture; it reminds me of the Sunoco stations from my youth. They could pump gas out front and do minor repairs inside. It not only reunite the Getty name with it's heritage, but also bring a few bucks in to maintain the museum.

I like modern art, but I see nothing that exciting about this place. That is just MHO and it is based on personal taste, not formal training.

Anonymous said...

The setting is stunning.

Anonymous said...

Nice house but not my cup of tea.

Here's my question though, couldn't you just buy a few acres of desert land and build your own version of this house for a helluva lot less?

Even if house is 5,000 sq feet, at $15 Million you're paying $3,000 per sq foot. Unless it's built out of gold it's hard to imagine the building materials justifying that cost. As for it's Neutra provenance, if it's been so abused by the succession of tasteless owners that it had to torn down to the studs, aren't you effectively just buying a new house?

I guess that's why I don't have the bank to afford these kinds of high highfalutin' digs, I just don't have the taste to appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

anon 12:32,

You could, but it wouldn't be a Neutra (and arguably his most famous commission to boot). I could buy a piece of land and build a duplicate of the White House but it wouldn't be the same either.

Iconic homes by famous architects are actually art. They aren't for us "regular" people and a lot of them aren't principal residences.

The Harrises just used this house as a weekend place. Their "real" house is in Orange County (maybe Newport Beach?).

I know of a John Lautner that sold to a young [non-celebrity] couple who had recently come into a lot of money. They bought it to live in and because the could afford the multi-million dollar price tag. They had no idea that what they really bought was a museum piece and kept calling the former owners looking for help and advice. I will give them credit that they learned how to care for the house and own it to this day.

Anonymous said...

Beth Harris spent years tracking down the original Neutra furniture and returning it to the house. Somebody needs to get ahold of a copy of the auction catalog and see if all that is included in the sale too.

Anonymous said...

This house makes my mouth wather. I know nothing about Palm Springs, so maybe it is not in such a desireable location, but the lines of the place are amazing. And that setting. Wow.

Anonymous said...

This would be a good house for David Geffen.....if he wants a house in Palm Springs.

Windy location that also loses the sun by 3:30 in the afternoon.

Personally, I would rather have a great view, in a golf course community like Bighorn or the Vintage Club.

Anonymous said...

Love glass houses. This one's amazing. Have been following and appreciating it for sooo long. It is art.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gawd - This is your Aunt Jennie formally of Ventura. Does this mean I'm famous for being mentioned in your news re: Barry Manilow????? Do I need to buy some bling, new duds and a new hair do? Give my love & kisses to Dr. Cooter and the babies.

Anonymous said...

maria and i will move in there.111114

Anonymous said...

Any updates on this icon's having a new owner yet?
Beth Harris deserves an "Restoration Artist / Producer" Oscar for this project. Supporting ones for Brent, Marmol-Radziner, & craftspeople.
Blessed with private tour shortly after finished, amazing!; & an experience I wish for others to have access to in future...?